Chapter 4: Using Our Intelligence
"The bodhisattva path is not about being a "good" person or accepting the status quo. It requires courage and a willingness to keep growing." ~Chodron
This chapter is about paying attention, or attentiveness, and about meeting emotional entanglements with skill. These things reverberate with me very much, as for so many years my focus and vow was to Pay Attention, and to work through karmic knots.
5 examples of when to apply attentiveness
- when bodhichitta arises
- before we make a commitment [to the bodhisattva vow]
- after we've made a commitment
- when dealing with our karma, or consequences of our actions
- when we are seduced by our kleshas
1. This is the initial spark. That moment of clarity when bodhichitta reveals itself. Do we take note and seek it out? The paramitas are the disciplines Shantideva tells us to use.
2. Make sure we know what we're signing up for before making a commitment. I think I signed up for the bodhisattva vow before I knew what that meant fully. I'm not sure I could have done it any other way, and I imagine my teacher recognized that. This practice and my teacher and my sangha were my lifeline, there was no turning away from that. The thing is, my nature is such that I can't imagine receiving a glimpse of the freedom from dis-ease that comes from bodhichitta and then choosing not to pursue it. I guess I can understand the idea behind this example...know what you're signing up for...but I can't imagine not signing up. It's like water. Heh... that's my temple. Dharma Rain.
3. I know it happens, but again, I can't imagine turning away. But then, some people tell me I'm rather unusual. I've found this Way so much more nourishing than other ways. Chodron:
"Reneging on the bodhisattva vow doesn't mean sometimes not feeling up to the task; it means opting for our own comfort and security on a permanent basis. ...These temporary lapses should be expected. But if we decide to let the bodhichitta spark go out, if we repress our appetite for challenge and growth, the consequences will be very sad indeed."
I guess one could sink so far into a lapse that the benefit of the bodhichitta can no longer be felt and one turns away.
4. Karma. When we speak of the Six Realms, we say we have the most opportunity to change in the Human Realm. We are best able to pay attention, understand the routes of cause and effect, and change accordingly. I didn't know this, K in class said they say the Human Realm is the most painful. I would have thought the Hell Realm. But, in the Hell Realm a suffering being is so stuck in that insular blaming world, they see no other possibility perhaps. In the Human Realm, we can see the other possibilities, and that makes the suffering more painful. Given this opportunity, be aware, be very aware of karma. It's possible not to be bound by a fated outcome.
5. Kleshas. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between a klesha and a shenpa. Shenpa is a new term, not one we use in Zen. Pema Chodron seems to be the only teacher using it widely in the West. I found this article by her, and this does seem to be talking about what we call rebirth. In every moment a new self is born. Now, is this new self attached to something? A thought? An emotion? A mind-state? Do we follow that something down a trail until we are no longer present in this moment? This sounds like that hook that Pema Chodron calls a shenpa.
I had a particular stage in my practice when I was very aware of this moment. They were like bubbles, these moments, and I could just let them float on. A bright emptiness surrounded them. I am still aware of these moments, but not with that pinpointed luminous accuracy. The awareness is now more ingrained, but fluid. I didn't have a word for this, but I was aware especially that when it came to emotion this hook could so easily solidify into a klesha. I thought of these as kleshas wanting to form. Kleshas had become identities wishing to form, almost seeming with a will of their own, to be. It is possible to slide easily into that attachment, that solid wall of ME-ness that feels wants GRASPS or feels dislikes ABHORS. But in the beginning it is not so solid, it wants to be born, and it is possible simply to let it go. In the beginning it is the awareness that lets you catch it sooner, and lets you watch it dissolve, because you know if you pull it in close it will just get big and be painful.
Chodron says, "Attentiveness functions like a guardian who protects us from repeating the same mistakes and strengthening the same patterns. We can catch ourselves getting hooked and avoid being swept away by 'shenpa'." Exactly. What I just said. So why doesn't she explain to us the relation of shenpa to klesha?
The bodhichitta teachings explain how pain can make us kinder instead of more neurotic; how it can link us with others and awaken bodhichitta instead of causing greater harm. Without these teachings, however, suffering doesn't free us; it increases our tendency to stay stuck. (Chodron)
I can't say I agree fully. I think it is possible to experience this naturally and not have the same words for it. It is helpful to have the teachings, and it is helpful to have at least one teacher and sangha, but it is possible that someone could be so fortunate as to have the skills to pay attention and get here on their own.
I have more on this chapter, on skillful managing of kleshas, but it's time for me to quit, so I hope to get to part 2 tomorrow.